OTTAWA — Jagmeet Singh tightened his shaky grip on the reins of the NDP Monday by winning a do-or-die federal byelection in British Columbia.
But the challenge he now faces in reviving the party’s flagging fortunes in time for this fall’s national election was underscored by the NDP’s simultaneous loss to the Liberals in Outremont, the Montreal riding that served as a launching pad for the orange wave that swept Quebec in 2011.
With most polls reporting, Singh captured Burnaby South with more than 38 per cent of the vote, ahead of the Liberal contender with 26 per cent and the Conservative with 22 per cent.
Had he lost, Singh would almost certainly have faced demands to resign as leader. Going into Monday’s byelection, many New Democrats — including Singh’s predecessor, Tom Mulcair — had questioned how Singh could lead the party in the October federal election if he couldn’t win a seat for himself.
However, the loss of Outremont cast a pall over Singh’s victory celebration.
Lawyer Rachel Bendayan reclaimed the riding for the Liberals with 42 per cent of the vote, even as the governing party struggles with the fallout from allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt criminal proceedings against Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
The NDP’s Julia Sanchez captured 27 per cent.
Outremont was a longtime Liberal stronghold until 2007, when Mulcair scored a byelection upset for the NDP, creating a beachhead for the party in Quebec, from which it eventually went on to sweep the province in 2011 and vault into official Opposition status for the first time in party history.
Since those heady days, the party has fallen back to its traditional third-party status. It won just 44 seats in the 2015 election, 16 of them in Quebec. Monday’s loss of Outremont gives credence to polls that suggest the party risks being wiped out altogether in Quebec this fall.
Vancouver NDP MP Jenny Kwan acknowledged the loss of Outremont was “a disappointment.”
“What we’re going to do, of course, is learn from this experience and then we’re going to redouble our efforts to ensure that the people of Quebec know we are there for them,” she said at Singh’s victory party.
In a third byelection Monday, the Conservatives handily hung on to the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe, which had been held since 2004 by former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Van Loan. Scot Davidson took 53 per cent of the vote for the Tories, well ahead of Liberal Shaun Tanaka with 30 per cent.
There were, however, a couple of potentially bad omens for the Conservatives in Monday’s results.
The breakaway People’s Party of Canada, created last summer by one-time Tory leadership contender Maxime Bernier, faced its first electoral test in the byelections and results suggest it could be a spoiler that deprives the Conservatives of victory in tight contests come the fall.